1 John 2:12-14 – “I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake. I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.”

I don’t know about you, but I love it when an author comes right out and states the purpose of their writing. No guesswork involved, just a plain statement outlining what they are going to say and why you should pay attention. We find such a clear declaration in 1 John 2:12-14. John tells us why he is writing this epistle and furthermore, he identifies his audience.

Three groups of people can be identified as the recipients of what John has to say: 1) little children, 2) young men, and 3) fathers with each group receiving two sets of reasons for being the focus of John’s effort. It is quite possible John is speaking to actual little children, teenagers, and adults. I think John had something else in mind.

While the Greek word for children, teknion, can and is used to describe little children, it is also used in the New Testament as a term of endearment by teachers towards their disciples. For instance, Jesus in John 13:33a states, “Little children, yet a little while I am with you.” Jesus certainly was not speaking to literal children, but rather to his disciples. Paul also uses this term in Galatians 4:19 where he comments, “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you”. Again, literal small children are not the focus of Paul in that passage. We find the same reality in the terms used for young men and father. The Greek word for young men is neaniskos meaning a young man or youth and the Greek word for father is patēr referring to literal fathers, a title of honor, or simply one advanced in years.

So what is John doing here in this passage by using terms such as little children, young men, and fathers? The key is the message John provides to each group. To the little children, he writes because their sins are forgiven and because they know the Father. To the young men he writes because they have overcome the evil one, they are strong, God’s word abides in them, with a reminder they have overcome the evil one. To the fathers, he writes because they know Him who is from the beginning.

I think Martyn Lloyd-Jones provides some salient commentary on why these are the reasons for John writing to these groups:

“…he writes for all, but at the same time there are steps and stages in this Christian life, and at these stages, we need one emphasis more than another and then we go on to need another one…The whole is meant for everybody, and yet there are particular applications at particular points, and that, I think, is exactly what John is doing. He is reminding them of the whole position, and as a wise pastor he just has this particular word of emphasis for people in particular ages or stages.”[1]

We all need to be reminded that our sins are forgiven through God’s grace and mercy at the cross.  Even the most seasoned believer needs to reflect that reality on a daily basis. As we mature in the faith, we come to an ever increasing knowledge of the Father. Here John speaks of our relationship with God. Knowing moves from a place of head knowledge to a place of heartfelt love, adoration, worship, and a desire to bring glory to God through obedience to His commands provided in Scripture.

It is interesting that a possible meaning of the Greek word know used by John in these verses is that of physical intimacy, in particular, its use as a Jewish idiom for sexual intimacy between a man and a woman. While of course knowing in that particular physical sense is not John’s intent, what he is noting is the intimate relationship that is at the root of truly knowing God. As a child in the faith, we know the Father in a child-like manner. As we grow, our relationship matures to a deeper sense of knowing.

We also need to be reminded that the evil one has been overcome. This is true at all stages of life and it is something John repeats to the young men. Repetition of something means it is important. What is also repeated specifically to the fathers is the aforementioned knowing of God. Again, the repetition of know speaks to its importance with the implication being a father is one who has grown to that place of maturity in the faith, a place of a deep, dynamic, and ever growing relationship with God.

As little children, we know our sins are forgiven and we can rest in that wonderful reality. However, we cannot stay put. As we grow, we put on the armor of God and engage in the battle that is the Christian walk with our roots continuing to reside in the knowledge or our salvation in Christ. We can fight confidently knowing we have overcome the evil one through the cross. Ultimately, we should desire to reach that place of maturity noted as being associated with fathers, that beautiful place of knowing God.

In three short yet powerful verses, John captures the reality of the Christian walk.  As Lloyd-Jones so brilliantly reminds us, “whatever stage we are in, there is an aspect of the truth that speaks specifically and especially to us, some basic doctrine for us all and a special word of encouragement according to our several positions.”[2]


[1] Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Life in Christ (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2002), 205.

[2] Ibid., 212.

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